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Gary Libman
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Gary Libman

Fenced in by Fear Gangs. Drive-by shootings. Drugs. A growing number of parents say the violence in their neighborhoods is forcing them to keep their kids safe at home.

Copyright (c) 1993 Times Mirror Company 000107155

Los Angeles Times Wednesday October 27, 1993 Home Edition View Part E Page 1 Column 2 View Desk 37 inches; 1310 words

As daylight dwindles on a Friday afternoon, an East Los Angeles neighborhood happily anticipates the weekend.

A group of women parade in Friday night finery; four men just home from work sit on a truck bumper sipping drinks; boys race their bicycles.

But Enrique Lopez and his sister, Arlene, don't take part.

Last Christmas, a bullet from a gang shooting hit the metal railing on their front porch, and three months ago, Enrique, 4, saw gang members holding guns after a drive-by on his street.

So Henry and Maria Lopez keep their barrel-chested son and pony-tailed daughter, 6, in their home or back yard when they are not in school. The kindergartner and first-grader sometimes visit a family ranch on weekends, but except for trips to church with their parents, they seldom go into the neighborhood.

"I'm afraid the shooters will hit my children," says Maria Lopez, who asked that the family's real name not be used. "As they're driving this way or that, they'll shoot (in any direction)."

Forget open spaces. Forget street ball or riding a bicycle to a friend's home. Increasingly, protective parents in Los Angeles are keeping their children home after school or, in some cases, during school hours. For these children, driveways, back yards and living rooms are the new playgrounds.

"There are pockets all over the city that have this kind of problem," says Nathana Schooler, field coordinator for pupil services and attendance for the Los Angeles Unified School District. "It's definitely growing.

"Some parents are legitimately concerned about violence. Some are overprotective and use this as an excuse," says Schooler.

"(Some) parents keep a child home a couple of days after an incident. But we also have more fearful parents who keep student~ home for a longer period."

No statistics are available on the number of children affected, but a variety of community agencies confirm the trend.

"As there's more and more violence to the community, the numbers (of children being kept at home) increase," says social worker Julio Ramos of the All People's Christian Center at East 20th and San Pedro streets.

Esther Clayton, president of the board of the Compton Welfare Right's organization, says: "A lot of people are saying they don't even want their children to go to school. They don't even know if they're going to come back (because of violence in the neighborhood)."

Enrique and Arlene usually romp in a concrete back yard surrounded by five-foot brick walls. They play with toys in a patch of dirt, ride bicycles and shoot baskets.

Henry and Maria say they saw no graffiti or signs of violence when they bought the house three years ago. But the week they moved in, two teen-agers were killed nearby.

"I feel bad because the children can't have the freedom to go outside," Maria says. "We used to live in an apartment. it was very small and we couldn't let the children jump because there were people downstairs."

Now, a lush, rose-bordered front lawn and the street provide ample space but can't be used.

Tania Davila's playground is a driveway lined with lumber and old furniture.

Her father says several people have been killed within half a mile of her USC-area home in recent years. A year ago, a nonfatal shooting occurred in front of the house. Recently, Tania, her brother and mother heard shots when they were home together and hit the floor.

Because of the violence, her mother drives Tania, 12, to her bus stop each morning and picks her up every afternoon.

once home, Tania eats, studies, watches TV and goes to bed. On two afternoons and Saturday morning, her parents take her to karate classes. occasionally she plays jump rope or other games in the driveway, but she never goes into the neighborhood at night.

Despite the restrictions, the seventh-grader was student of the year at her elementary school last year.

"I'm used to the routine," she says. "Usually what takes up my time is

homework. On Friday sometimes my friend comes over, so I'm not that bored."

Her parents do their best to fill her time.

Nena and Salvador Davila got more involved with Tania and her brother Salvador Jr., 17, when they realized that their children would spend many hours at home.

"They like to go to the park or run or be on the bicycle or skateboards," Nena says. "I try to compensate by staying here and giving them as much attention as possible so they won't feel bored. I play with them. Cards and dominoes. We tell jokes and stories.

"I've always been involved in as many school activities as possible. I've been the parents' council president in the elementary school Tania attended. Another important thing is to know the total personnel of the school, as well as the teachers, so we could keep communication open for any problem or question."

Being involved creates rewards, Nena says. Tania wants to be a lawyer or doctor, while Salvador Jr., a high school senior, hopes to teach math.

"I would be sad if my children were sad," says Nena. "But it seems to me that they're happy. They live in a nonviolent atmosphere in the house. They seem to have everything needed to be happy. If not, my son would have found a way of leaving home and getting involved in gangs and drugs."

A few miles away, near Adams and Crenshaw boulevards, Randell Lamb, 9, follows a routine similar to Tanials.

The tall, slender boy comes home after school, eats a snack and finishes homework before reading or watching cartoons. Occasionally, he plays in his apartment building's concrete courtyard near a kidney-shaped pool.

Randell's Mom, Denise Conner, emphasizes the study part of that routine. "I feel education is more important than playing," she says. "There's (also) bad influences in the building. And I'm afraid of what happens outside."

Conner's favorite niece, 18, was murdered during a Compton house robbery, and Conner says she has witnessed a drive-by shooting. She also watched a man with a gun approach a car, which then sped away from a fast-food restaurant. Two teen-agers hit her older son, Damon Jones, 15, and stole his bicycle. Frequent accidents occur at an intersection near her apartment.

"(My niece's death) bothered me," she says. "I'm afraid to let Damon go to the corner and catch the bus to the mall. I worry about him going back and forth to school. I have to get over that. But I don't want him in front of this building at night, period.11

Most of Randell's outside activities involve periodic vacations or family outings to shop, visit relatives or go to movies or amusement parks. His mother hopes he'll join sports teams at a nearby park.


The third-grader says he doesn't mind staying in because he sees friends at school. And he says traffic accidents make his neighborhood dangerous. "In the last one, a car was coming so fast that it knocked a lady's car onto the curb-"

Conner grew up in South-Central Los Angeles. But she says there's no comparing her experience to her son's. "We used to bring the TV out on the lawn and have tents and stay out on summer nights, sometimes until midnight if it was warm. or we'd play outside until at least 7:30.

"This is much different . . . . I feel wherever we'd go in L.A. they would have to stay inside. Unless we move back to the country. In a

small town, it's not that bad."

How do these concerns about violence affect children? Experts say that in an era when people try to be more careful, confinement can hurt a child's sense of security. On the other hand, family togetherness may bring positive results.

Discussions of violence should convey as little anxiety as possible, says Richard Lieberman, a psychologist/consultant with the LAUSD's suicide prevention unit.

"There is a kind of contact anxiety which the child internalizes," he says. "The children are very afraid to leave the house. They are also deprived of learning other coping strategies for growing up in a violent community."

Schooler, the LAUSD field coordinator, says schools "work with parents to learn coping skills for themselves and their children and give them resources they can turn to."

Parents can find safe after-school programs in schools, parks or churches, or set up cooperative day care with other parents, she adds.

Danny Hernandez, executive director of the Hollenbeck Youth Center of Boyle Heights, says parents should look for after-school programs with strong staffing and a reputation for developing youth.

"If parents take time, they will find a lot of organizations in Los Angeles doing a great job that will give their kids an opportunity to grow up with other kids and become a kid again.,,

Schooler suggests that parents can arrange for a neighbor to bring children home from after-school activities. "Or they can get with a bunch of kids who walk home together and discuss rules for handling specific situations. This increases the child's ability to get along with other kids. They also learn to handle hostility or differences."

In addition, community agencies and police offer block clubs to curtail violence, says Ramos of the All People's Christian Center.

But experts like to point out that families can benefit from spending more time together--even if it is indoors.

"In some ways, increased violence is forcing parents to spend more face-to-face time with children," says Armando Morales, a professor of psychiatry, social work and biobehavioral sciences at the UCLA School of Medicine. "The parent can be more involved with the school and with the child's learning."

PHOTO: COLOR, Randell Lamb/ 9, rides around the courtyard of the apartment building where he lives with his mother, Denise Conner. She limits Randell to that area after school but hopes he will play sports'at a nearby park. PHOTO: COLOR, Because he sees his friends at school, Randell says he doesn't mind playing in the courtyard. PHOTOGRAPHER: J. ALBERT DIAZ / Los Angeles Times